Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.
Jan 062014



lambert 2380777b 300x187 Villa’s 99 Problems (But the F.A. Cup is Not One)

Aston Villa Manager Paul Lambert looking to escape Villa Park.

“I think, if you ask the majority of them [other Premier League managers], if they’re being honest I think they probably would do, yes.” Aston Villa Manager Paul Lambert on if Premier Leagues Managers would like to avoid the F.A. Cup.

One of the things that I have always enjoyed about football is the contradictions of the game. Football matches are designed as small events. Stadiums have maximum capacities, there are only 22 players on a field at every time, and a handful of people of lining the sidelines. Supporters feel like only their team matters and are often isolated from the issues of the greater game. Yet the games themselves are a microcosm of larger issues in the game and in the world. The F.A. Cup is a shining example of this contradiction. On a Saturday where teams like Rochdale and Sheffield United were able to shock the footballing world, Premier League clubs like Newcastle and Mr. Lambert’s Aston Villa failed to show up.

My mom always told me that you will only get as much out of a situation as you put into it. While this was a lesson that she was trying to tell me about college applications, I think it applies here as well. One of the major narratives in England this past weekend was about how the F.A. Cup has lost its luster, how the games are meaningless and boring. While one can understand these thoughts coming from a fan, it seems rather ridiculous hearing it from a manager, especially since that organization that they are employed by earns a profit from said matches. Resources, time, and effort are put in to carrying out this match so it seems counter-productive to put out a decent squad and not want to win.

There are some valid points to Mr. Lambert’s claim about managers not wanting to play these matches. This is a very difficult period in the schedule for English teams. Having played 7 matches in the last month certainly the players might be a bit gassed. It is certainly reasonable that Mr. Lambert would be concerned about the match fitness of his players and their ability to perform. You will often see the likes of Arsenal rest their players in these types of matches to preserve them for their long campaign ahead. And of course injuries also play a factor. West Ham had to rest a couple of their starters on Sunday due to injury and had their captain Kevin Nolan suspended due to a red card.

But there is a flaw with this line of thinking. First, Aston Villa is not Arsenal and they are certainly not Manchester United. They have not won a major domestic title since 1996 (the League Cup title,) and last won the Premier League (then the First Division) back in 1981. There are kids growing up now who are Aston Villa supporters who have never seen their club actually win a title. Yes they have seen their club stay in the Premier League, but they have never finished higher than fourth.

Second, while both Manchester United and Arsenal are using substitutes for players with nicks or injuries, they are using these games as a means to strengthen their depth. When Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger today chose to play Serge Gnabry against Tottenham, he did so with the full knowledge that it will test the player and get him prepared to play Bayern Munich should he be called upon. While Lucas Podolski probably could have played, it makes sense both in the long and the short-term to give the nod to the younger player. Arsenal is currently in the mix for four major titles and is putting out the best possible team for each match. Aston Villa has lost 3 of their last 5 matches and rather than using the tournament to give their team some confidence, they did not show up and got bounced out of a tournament.

Aston Villa also seems to be content staying mid-table and enjoying the large bonus (around 40 million pounds) that comes at the end of every year. But what does this say to the fans, who consistently see their ticket prices increase every year that the club is willing to sacrifice chances at winning trophies for just so that they can stay in the Premier League? Aston Villa’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield United on Saturday might have been lessened if the game was played in Sheffield. But it was a home match for Villa and their fans got to see a team play lackluster football for 90 minutes.

Oh and for those who think I am being too harsh on poor Villa, I completely understand that there are other teams in the middle of the Premier League table who chose to field a second-tier team this weekend. My club, Newcastle United, also fielded a reserve team and were taken out of the competition by Cardiff City, a Premier League team. That is a heck of a gift to give the Magpies supporters: a trophy-less season for the 58th year in a row (the 2010 Coca Cola First Division Championship notwithstanding) and a mid-table finish.

The real solution to this situation for clubs like Aston Villa and Newcastle who do not seem terribly interested in playing the F.A. Cup is to not play. It is an invitational tournament. If you do not want to play, or you don’t think it is worth your time, then don’t play. Sure they might get excoriated in the press like Manchester United did back in 1999 when they famously pulled out of the tournament to play in the World Club Championship. But at least then the tournament will be left with teams that actually want to play in it.

While detractors of the FA Cup will say that Wigan’s FA Cup victory caused them to be relegated they still won their first major title and were able to raise their profile more than they ever would by simply hanging on in the Premier League. Also, if small teams have such difficulty maintaining their form on two fronts, then how did Swansea City win the League Cup and at the same time finish in the top ten of the Premier League? The truth is that it has nothing to do with the size or bankroll of the team, but rather with good management.

It is very hard to understand how a tournament that dates back to the 1880’s has very little meaning for a club or a particular league. The myth of English football is that there is the Premier League and everyone else. But English football runs deep. With over 40,000 association football clubs, the roots of English football run far deeper than the likes of Manchester United or Chelsea. It goes to fans of teams like Wrexham, Doncaster, Macclesfield Town, and Grimsby Town. These are clubs that will certainly never win the Premier League Title and probably will never even make the Premier League. But that is what makes the F.A. Cup so great is because it gives teams the chance to play against the best. It gives players the chance to show their skills against higher league clubs with the hope of an improved payday. And it gives the fans the chance to see the larger teams for a far more reasonable price than going to a match at Old Trafford. While it may not benefit the likes of Liverpool to play Mansfield Town it benefits English Football because it shows that the Premier League is only part of the system, not the whole system.

While Aston Villa’s chances to win a major title this year may have ended, teams like Huddersfield, Stevenage, and Yeovil Town will move on to the next round of the F.A. Cup. These clubs still have an opportunity to play in Wembley Stadium in May. While the likelihood that any of these clubs will make it there are remote, the chance still remains. That opportunity and the excitement that comes with smaller clubs breaking through the glass ceiling is why the F.A. Cup remains a great competition. It brings a game that is loved by billions back to the games roots. It is too bad that Paul Lambert does not see it that way.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.